How to Prevent Basement Water – Part 1


How to Prevent Basement Water – Part 1


Before I get into the Step-by-Step Instructions on ways to solve Basement Water Intrusion, I would like to explain the probable causes. Anyone who has ever experienced water appearing unexpectedly in a basement knows what a pain this can be. Cleanup can be extensive and time consuming if the basement is a finished one. It is still no picnic even if the basement is NOT finished. Water can damage or destroy flooring, possessions, wallboard, and create mold. So, How do you Prevent Basement Water?

There are two very basic things that will Prevent Basement Water Intrusion in at least 95% of homes: Grading and Gutters.

Grading is the first thing to look at if there are water problems in a home. I know this sounds very basic, and it is, but you would be surprised at the number of homeowners who either ignore this issue, or feel that it can NOT be that big of a contributor to the problem. However, that could NOT be further from the truth.



If the grounds surrounding your home slopes toward your home, or allows water to pond next to your home rather than be directed away, this can be a huge factor in causing water to enter your home. The fix for improper Grading is to simply change the grade and/or the landscaping.

Changing the landscaping to get water flowing away from your home is sometimes as easy as bringing in some topsoil, installing that topsoil next to your home and grading the ground to pitch away from your home. The slope of the topsoil away from your home does NOT need to be anything dramatic – it just needs to be enough to prevent water from sitting next to your home. Usually, a downward pitch of 1” for every 10’ is sufficient. Just be careful not to pile the topsoil too high against the foundation, because this could lead to rotting of the sill plate, which is made of wood and sits on the top of your foundation. Try to keep the grade at least 4” – 6″ below the top of the foundation wall.

Homes will often be too close to each other to allow for proper Grading. In these cases, one option is to create a swale in the yard, which will allow for water to go around your home in a type of trench, and be deposited in a more favorable area, such as the street. A swale is merely a depression, or a low area between slopes that provides for drainage.

When a swale isn’t practical, an underground drain system can be installed in your yard. This system consists of large corrugated plastic drain tubing installed underground that directs surface water to a more desirable location, such as the street. You can either rent a trenching machine or dig the trench by hand.

While the trenching machine can make it quick and easy to dig the trench, it will take some effort to repair the nasty scar left in your yard. A better way to dig the trench, is to cut the sod with a flat spade shovel, scrape underneath it, and just fold it back for the entire length of the trench , and then to dig out the trench. Once you’re done installing your drain tubing and replacing your soil, just fold the sod back down, press it firmly in place, and fertilize and water it. It takes a little more time and definitely more work initially, but the healing process for the yard is very short, and expense will be minimal.


Gutters and Downspouts

The other basic thing to look at when your home has basement water problems is the Gutters and Downspouts. Without Gutters, rainwater will shed water from your roof and deposit it near the foundation of your home.

If your home has Gutters, but improper Downspout Extensions, the water will still end up concentrating next to your home. Again, this is bad news. Proper Downspout Extensions will bring water well away from your home – ideally six to ten feet. Of course, Gutters need to be cleaned as well. Dirty, overflowing Gutters are worse than having NO Gutters at all and can actually cause roof damage.

See my Post:   Easiest Way to Clean Gutters


Sump Pump Systems

A properly functioning sump basket and sump pump in your basement can surely prevent water Intrusion, but if the other two aforementioned areas are NOT dealt with properly, your sump pump will be working overtime, and can lead to premature failure.

Installing a battery-operated backup sump pump is a good idea if you live in an area where power outages are frequent. A normal sump pump will NOT do you any good if you do NOT have power to make it run. Most sump baskets have enough room to install this secondary system.


In Conclusion

If you end up with a wet basement this Spring, go outside and take a look at how water is being managed at the exterior of your home. Ideally, take a look while it is raining to make sure that the Gutters and Downspouts are NOT leaking, and to make sure that water is NOT ponding near your foundation. If this all looks good and you still get water in your basement, the problem might be cracks in your foundation or defective drain tile. Drain tile is normally installed by the home builder, and it is placed along the bottom of each home’s foundation. This drain tile is fed into the sump basket, where the sump pump then displaces it. You should also make sure that the this displacement is being directed away from your home, and NOT being discharged near your foundation, where the cycle will just be repeated. This will cause premature sump pump failure, and could be disastrous if there is a power outage and you do NOT have a battery-operated backup pump.

If you already have drain tile installed, and your grading and gutters are in great shape,  and you are still getting water in your basement, check for cracks in your foundation walls that could be allowing bulk water through the cracks, which basically bypasses the drain tile. Any such cracks should be repaired. If you have checked all of this and still can NOT figure out the cause of basement water problems, the next step would be to contact a Basement Water Specialist.

You can find Basement Water Specialists by clicking on any of the following Links:




Step-by-Step Instructions


Now I will provide you with Step-by-Step Instructions for hopefully solving any Basement Water Intrusion Problems. Depending on your unique situation, some or all of the following Materials and Supplies, along with the following Tools and Supplies will be needed:


Materials & Supplies Needed:

  • 1” x 2” x 8’s for Stakes (number determined by the number of your Area discrepancies – you will get 4 Stakes per 1” x 2”) or you can purchase pre-cut Stakes for a slightly more expensive price
  • Topsoil (amount needed dependent on your particular needs)


Purchase Stakes at:

Purchase Topsoil at:


Tools & Supplies Needed:

  • Safety Glasses
  • Work Gloves
  • Skill Saw (for cutting Stakes)
  • Baby Sledgehammer
  • Magic Marker
  • Rototiller
  • Metal Rake
  • 24” Aluminum Leveling Rake
  • Long-Handled Flat Dirt Shovel
  • Long-Handled Pointed Digging Shovel
  • Flat Spade Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow

Purchase Tools & Supplies Needed at:




Step-by-Step Instructions


Correcting Your Landscaping Grade

In order to have the proper Grade of your ground surrounding your home, you will need to have the following:

  • Topsoil that sits approximately 4” – 6” below the top of your foundation
  • Grade pitched at a consistent downward angle away from your home of at least 1” drop for every 10’ of length.

Click the following Link to see my page:   Steps Common to All Projects   for completing Steps 1 thru 4. When those (4) Steps have been completed, return here and begin with Step 5.


Step 1 – Create a Materials & Supplies Needed Sheet

In addition to the information found in:   Steps Common to All Projects   the following information will be helpful for determining the amount of topsoil needed:

  • Remove any topsoil from measured high spots per the instructions found in Step 8, and add the removed topsoil to any low spots elsewhere.
  • Calculate the remaining topsoil needed for any additional low spots using the following formula:

Measure the length x width x depth needed for each spot where topsoil is needed. Assuming you will be measuring your length and width in ‘feet’, you will need to convert your depth to ‘feet’ as well before multiplying. This will give you the number of cubic yards needed to complete your project.

See my post:   Formulas for Calculating Amounts of Materials Needed


Step 2 – Calculate Project Cost

In addition to the information found in:   Steps Common to All Projects   the following information will be helpful for determining whether to purchase bags of topsoil, pickup topsoil from a dirt farm in your own truck, or have topsoil delivered to your home in bulk:

  • Topsoil sold in bags is usually sold in 1 cubic Foot bags (NOT cubic Yards), which generally contains between .75 and 1 cubic foot of material in each bag. You would therefore need at least 27 bags for each cubic yard needed.


  • One cubic yard of topsoil weighs approximately 1 ton. Most half-ton pickup trucks can manage this safely. Heavier-duty one-ton and 3/4-ton pickups can often hold and handle up to 2 cubic yards, or about 2 tons safely.


  • If you will require a substantial amount of topsoil, it will probably be much cheaper to buy it in bulk. You will need to check with local dirt farms for pricing comparisons of picked up verses delivered for the quantity of topsoil needed, and compare this to the bag price as well.


Step 3 – Order Your Materials & Tools Needed


Step 4 – Inspect Your Delivery


Step 5 – Check Your Current Grade

Check your Current Grade and cut up the number of needed stakes.

In order to correct any problems in your existing grade, you will need a starting point. First, take your tape measure and go around your home’s perimeter. Near your foundation, check that the topsoil is generally at least 4” – 6” below the top of your foundation. Plus or minus an inch is acceptable. Make a mental note of the average. Also, take a count of the number of areas showing a discrepancy which must be changed. Then, put on your safety glasses and work gloves, and cut up your 1” x 2”s into the appropriate number of stakes that you will need. Each stake should be 24” in length, and pointed at the bottom. You can either use a skill saw or compound miter saw to make these cuts.


Step 6 – Mark Areas of Needed Change with Stakes

Mark Any Areas That Need a Grade Adjustment with stakes, marking each stake with the amount of adjustment needed.

For instructional purposes, we will use the average of 6” as our general topsoil position indicating the average below the foundation measurement.

Using the stakes that you have cut and pointed, pound in the stakes at the beginning and end of any discrepancies with your baby sledgehammer, using a short scrap 2” x 4” as a buffer when pounding in order to prevent stakes from being damaged on top. Pound the stakes about 6” into the ground, placing them about 6” away from your home. With your magic marker, mark each as to whether the existing ground is too low or too high, with arrows showing up or down, indicating the current condition. Also, write the number of inches on each stake showing any discrepancy of the ground being too high, and place a horizontal mark at the point where the ground should be, in cases of the existing being too low.

If you have multiple changes occurring next to each other, such as one area being too high, adjoining another area which is too low, you will also need to mark your stakes with arrows indicating left and right for the given discrepancies. You can simply use ypur magic marker to make these arrows.

Example:  If your first measurement showing a discrepancy shows that your topsoil is 8” below the top of your foundation, pound in the stake at that location and mark it with a down arrow and draw a horizontal line across the face of the stake at 2“ above the existing ground. This will indicate that you are currently 2” below the average height of 6” below the top of the foundation. If this extends for an area of 8’ to the right, and then your ground is only 4” below the top of foundation, mark a right facing arrow on your 1st stake, and pound a second stake in at the new point of change. Now mark your 2nd stake with an up arrow, along with the number (2). This will indicate the your existing ground needs to be lowered by 2”. Also mark the 2nd stake with an arrow pointing to the right. Pound in a 3rd stake at the point where your ground height changes again, marking that stake appropriately. If your ground height has returned to the average height of 6” below the top of foundation, you can mark the stake: ‘OK’ to indicate that the area has been measured and found to be acceptable.


Step 7 – Remove any Plantings Necessary

If you are adjusting your grade by adding more than 1” of topsoil, you will need to remove any plantings and replant them after the grade adjustments are made. If you are removing more than 1” of existing topsoil, you can simply taper your grade from each plant down to the newly graded height.

Any changes to your grade that requires the addition of topsoil of more than 1”, that incorporates existing plantings, will require you to remove these plants and replant them after the grade corrections have been made. Most plants can NOT tolerate being buried more than an additional 1” at their base. Removal should be performed under the following conditions:

  • Temperatures during transplanting should NOT exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Plants should be thoroughly watered down to their roots 24 hours before transplanting.
  • Removal should incorporate topsoil covering all plant roots.
  • Plants should be kept in a shaded area until replanted.
  • Thorough packing of the topsoil surrounding each plant should be accomplished in order to eliminate any air gaps.
  • Thorough watering of each plant should be provided within a short time after the transplant is completed.

These are general care instructions, which if followed, will substantially cause a better than average success rate of plant survival after the transplant. However, NO guarantees are implied as to the success of each transplant, since the condition of each plant prior to transplant can NOT be ascertained.


Step 8 – Adjust Grade Height and Replant Plants

Add or remove topsoil as needed in any area that require it. Cultivate the top 2” of existing topsoil before adding additional soil and mix together to bind.

Using your rototiller, cultivate the area where topsoil is to be removed or added to. If removing, cultivate to the depth needed to remove the proper amount for correct grade. Then, rake the area into a pile, and till again if necessary to reach the correct grade. Rake area again and load all loose topsoil into your wheelbarrow and transport it to wherever you will be using it.

You should first use any extra soil in any low spots around your home. Next, very often there will be low spots in your yard where this topsoil may be used. If not, considering installing a raised planting bed somewhere on your property where this topsoil will come in handy.

When adding topsoil, cultivate the top 2” of the area where additional topsoil will be added. After adding topsoil, cultivate the area again to mix the old and new topsoil together. This is especially important if the area is sloped to prevent the new topsoil from sliding down on an already hard packed surface. Once completed, you should replant any disturbed plantings and water them thoroughly.



Step 9 – Adding Gutters and Downspouts

If you are in need of Gutters and Downspouts on your home, it is best to have these installed by the professionals, as apposed to doing this yourself. Professionals will be able to supply you with one-piece continuous Gutters, which will never require repairing leaking seams down the road. It will be well worth the expense. 5″ or 6” Gutters and Downspouts are preferred to the smaller 4”. They will much better accommodate heavy rains and will clog less frequently. You can contact Gutter Installers by visiting any of the following Links:


If you have Gutters and Downspouts, but just need some extensions to dispense the water further away from your foundation, you can purchase these and install them yourself. Gutter Extensions should deposit water at least 4′ away from your home’s foundation. 6’ – 10’ away is even better. You should use (2) self-tapping screws for each extension, one on either side of each extension, approximately 1” in from the end of the connection.

Purchase Gutter Extensions and Self-Tapping Screws at:


Installing a Battery-Operated Backup Sump Pump

Installing a Battery-Operated Backup Sump Pump is a good idea if you lose power frequently, causing your main sump pump to be of no use during these times. Simply follow the manufacturers instructions for installing. I would recommend purchasing one with at least 1/3 horsepower for best results, along with a quality marine battery.

Purchase Backup Sump Pump at:


Step 11 – Gas-Powered Generator

As an alternative, or in addition to a Battery-Operated Backup Sump Pump, is the Gas-Powered Generator. A Gas-Powered Generator, although only useful when you are at home during a power outage, can provide you with the ability to NOT only plug in your existing sump pump, but can also provide power for additional items, such as:  lights, TV, refrigerator, freezer, etc. You will also need an adequate supply of heavy duty extension cords to plug your various items into your Generator, along with a power strip or two. Usually, a 14/3 or a 12/3 gauge extension cord is adequate, along with a 3 – 6 outlet power strip. A good Generator, along with these accessories, will give you years of service, and will be worth their weight in gold during a power outage.

Purchase Gas-Powered Generator at:

Purchase Heavy Duty Extension Cords at:

Purchase Power Strips at:


Congratulations on a Job Well Done!


Please take the time to leave a Comment, letting me know how your project went.



CJ Dodaro

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